Superior Customer Service: Remove the Threat of One Phrase

There is a phrase becoming popular in the customer service world that threatens both the customers and all of us in the profession. It’s a phrase we need to decry and banish from our vocabulary especially in the powerful world of social media.

The phrase we need to remove is: “Fire the customer!”



Superior Customer Service: Remove Threat of One Phrase Image by:Quinn Dombrowski

This threatening phrase:

  • Diminishes our integrity instead of building trust
  • Undermines our caring purpose rather than succeeding through care
  • Broadcasts selfishness and greed vs. radiating greatness
  • Declares customer service to be a power struggle instead of a partnership
  • Makes all customers who read it more defensive instead of cooperative
  • Teaches a new generation of customer service professionals a skewed view
  • Projects a tug-of-war mindset rather than a winning collaboration




Are there times when we can’t meet a customer’s need or expectation? Sure.
Yet how we part company — and speak about — echoes our brand throughout the global reach of social media.

For those business owners proudly using the phrase “fire the customer” all over Twitter, Facebook, and beyond, it’s worth a moment to consider an alternative.

The times I have not been able to continue with a customer, I have said:

“Although I cannot meet your needs and must pass on this opportunity, I wish you success …”



I am not “firing the customer”, as the current threatening phrase likes to power tout. I am firing myself! How we say things in difficult moments affects the future of our brand.


Current customers and social media tell future customers what we believe; they wonder how we will treat them. Every tweet, every post, every statement tells the world what we think of customers as a whole.

Customers talk about us too; what they say is actually up to us!



I vote to give superior customer service — not to be superior over customers. What do you want customers to say about you and your brand?


From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
Free Your Mind to Give Superior Customer Service in Difficult Situations
What Do We Want Customers to Feel, Experience, and Remember?

©2012 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.


Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

20 Responses to “Superior Customer Service: Remove the Threat of One Phrase”

  1. Kate -
    When I read this post, I was astonished that such a phrase as “Fire the customer!” is in actual use. I have never encountered it before this moment, yet I know exactly what it signifies, because it verbalizes an attitude, posture, and mind-set that I have encountered across the spectrum of the world I “go shopping” in – Often you find a business whose vibrations are strongly overtoned with an attitude of “Get out!” when you go through the door – sometimes it is an owner-run business, sometimes a chain in which the sales person present is representing a company. It’s the same in any case.
    Contrast that to the business where the vibrations are welcoming, cheerful, embracing, and relaxed – and, if you don’t find what you are looking for the person in charge will actually be so kind as to make suggestions about where you can look elsewhere with more success.
    You’ll be like to return to that place.
    We all want a pleasant experience when we take on life’s necessary “customer role” – so if we find the opposite, you’ve probably lost a customer – the important “word of mouth” – now “word of tweet” comes into play.
    This is a strong post. I’ll be on the lookout for any written or spoken instances of this phrase “fire the customer” – or is it an unspoken communication you are speaking about?
    Thank you.
    Wayne
    Thank you.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Wayne,
      Many thanks for sharing your perspective. It shows a keen understanding of the value of customers and the relationships we build/maintain.

      To answer your question “is it unspoken?” — it is quite spoken. That is why I wrote this post. I watch tweets in customer service chats, there are articles written in business journals on it. Google on “fire the customer” and your astonishment will increase!.

      So I finally wrote this post to say to everyone in business … think twice before speaking, tweeting, and writing this phrase. It says “I believe that relationships with customers are about power and I am going to dominate.”

      Gives me a cold chill. I wouldn’t do business with anyone who had bragged that they had “fired a customer”.

      Warmest regards and thanks for weighing in here.
      Kate

  2. Kimb Manson says:

    Thank You Kate!!!

    The first time I heard this statement was from a contractor about 3 years ago, she knew I was stressed over a few projects and told me to “Fire the client” My stomach turned the first time I heard this phrase. Then I started hearing it and reading it more and more. I saw it being used by fellow service providers in my field and I kept wondering how they could type in such a self damaging phrase. Customers create our payroll they are not on it.

    There were a few times of high stress I did actually find myself using this phrase in conversation, but never in type, never on social media. Then I to had this feeling of, who am I to put myself that high above the people I serve. It is so self damaging to think in such away.

    Instead I decided to use the term walk away, and I did so in a manner that let the client know we just did not match up, and assured them they would find the right designer for their needs, end result no bridges burned, and they still referred me to others, becuase I was honest with them as opposed to dragging the situation out.

    Every time I hear the phrase “Fire the client” typed in a social media statement or email, I would love nothing more then to be a fly on their office wall to see exactly how they fire a client…something tells me, it is not what everyone makes it out to be.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Kimb,
      We are of one mind on this. It is no surprise to me that you are outraged by that statement. Your commitment to service quality was apparent the first time I called you after I found you on Google. In 5 minutes, I knew we would hit it off as you designed many logos, graphics, and marketing pieces for me.

      So here’s to you and your innate sense of customer that you combine so well with your artistry for the success of all who use your services!

      Warmest thanks,
      Kate

  3. 1. It has nothing to do with social media – it was around long before.
    2. You are firing your clients also. You may choose different wording, but if you took the action to release the contract then you did the firing. And since I am sure you didn’t talk about it any place on socia media when you did release the contract, I don’t why you are concerned what future clients will think about you.

    Are you more concerned with the wording or the action ? I think we will all agree that the action is needed on occasion. There are some business relationships that don’t work out. So all of us fire the client on occasion. But I’ve never heard of anybody actively using that phrase with their client when they do the actual release of the contract.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Patrick,
      You make a claim in your comment that I fire customers too. No, I don’t. If clients and I decide to part company for specific reasons, it is hardly a “firing”. The phrase represents a power trip and I have no power over my customers nor do I wish to.

      Communication and decisions represent a collaborative give and take — even in the toughest times. Your claim that we all agree this is “firing” does not reflect a universal view.

      I say let’s leave the power trips by the wayside and especially leave it off social media. It spreads an us vs. them mentality throughout the customer service world that demeans and degrades us as much as it does the customer.

      Kate

  4. Kimb Manson says:

    Thanks Kate, my only hope is that others see the importance in what you are saying.

  5. Leo Bottary says:

    Kate, I’d like to offer a different perspective on this. Years ago, I read one of my all-time favorite books called, The Customer Comes Second by Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters. As I’m sure you know, it’s based on the premise that your employees come first, and if you’re willing to really commit to this point of view, your customers will be the big winners for it. When I owned my own firm in the late 90s (which I later sold), I modeled my agency after this philosophy and, about year or so in, it was put to the test. Unfortunately, we had a client who was just flat out abusive to our people. After a few frank conversations about it, he eventually crossed the line and proceeded to demand that I fire one of my employees (who had done nothing wrong by the way), I decided it was time for the client to go instead. Call it firing, parting ways or whatever, but I made the call that if employees first was to be more than words, the client had to go. Now — our employees knew we were dead serious – that The Customer Comes Second was more than just a clever book title. It’s hard to quantify what this meant for employee morale. We were never public about it or did anything to embarrass the client or the company, but we learned an important lesson as a team. And that lesson is that you don’t sacrifice your values for money – especially for money. Interestingly enough, we didn’t really sacrifice income for our values at all. Our team was so energized and determined to replacing that client and its associated fees, that they practically willed a new, larger client in the door within about 30 days with whom we really enjoyed working. Not all clients/customers are worth keeping. Just food for thought.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Leo,
      Thank you for sharing your perspective. When it comes to customers abusing any team member, the answer is no. I totally agree with you about that. I advise all leaders when I am consulting and teach it in my workshops how to stop abuse without inflaming customers further.

      The customer you describe who demanded you fire an employee was out of line. S/he can walk away if they are truly dissatisfied with the service etc…

      Having said that, I also believe that we make those distinctions and carry them out in private. Try this: Google on “fire the customer” and you will see this power playing phrase all over blog posts and in chats. One just tweeted last week “I fired a customer and it’s the best thing I ever did.” When his potential customers read it, they will turn away and go with someone else.

      As for the phrase “the Customer Comes Second” or its equivalent that I have read “Employees First”, I am not a fan of either. Inspire teams to care by treating them well — absolutely! Set up a hierarchy of who is more important? I vote no for it takes everyone off the focus of ultimate customer care. It may well give a sudden boost to morale yet I would not want team members excited about thinking they count more than the customers.

      I get them psyched up about being inspired to give the ultimate care. To be in service and not feel like slaves.

      “The difference between service and servitude — the first you choose, the second you don’t.”

      Just some more food for thought.

      Warmest thanks for weighing in,
      Kate

  6. Fascinating conversation. Wanting the highest and best for each other, many times I see people think that means to accept what ever comes there way. I had not see anyone articulate this “Firing the customer” thinking as you so did here today. Thank you for helping me to find a deeper perspective on how we can find beneficial ways to find a resolution that meets everyone’s needs.

    It is in those shifts in thinking that allow us to find new ways to serving both ourselves and each other.

    • inell Klein says:

      Michele is a wonderful member of a great team, Prosperity Bank. I am not a big customer but they treat me like I am, never too busy to help me. Customer service is why they are #1.

  7. Shep Hyken says:

    Kate – Great positive spin on a phrase that has some negative implications. The phrase “Fire the customer” may have been used to help “fire up” the company employees who were being subjective to certain overly abusive customers. That said, your positive spin will give the employees what they want – permission separate themselves from certain customers and move on.

  8. Dave Moore says:

    I am forever wondering the same thing…what happened to customer service?
    In this fast moving, high energy, business world, when did we lose that good old fashioned ‘customer service’ option.
    It’s as if companies don’t need customers!! If they are of the mind to FIRE customers then they must believe that there is an inexhaustable supply of customers somewhere. Heads up!: That supply does not exist. It takes work.
    Has something happened that we have not been made aware of? Have companies become omnipotent and just exist without having to have customers willing to buy their stuff to keep them in business?
    Oh no…actually, they DO need us to buy their stuff but if you want after sales service it seems more and more likely that you will fall victim to the ‘we have your money: tough’ attitude or the “look, we can’t keep answering your complaints. you’re fired’ mentality.
    A case in point is the automated service you get on the telephone with these places. “Press 1 for… Press 2 for….” And then you get a voice telling you that you now have 8 more options…then 4 more options…and then…’I'm sorry, that department is not taking calls, goodbye’. (BT) Or you end up in India. They ask you to tap in date of birth, account number, door number, numbers from postcode, dogs middle name and blood group and then, when you finally get through to a carbon based life form, they ask for all those details again!
    I train Customer Service departments when I visit large companies…even small companies whose CS department is only three people…and there are some rules….

    DISCLAIMER! These are not rules out of a book, a training manual or something from some school, college or University. These rules come from EXPERIENCE, COMMON SENSE AND THE STREET. YEARS of experience. They Work!

    Rule 1
    You MUST have a commitment to your customer. THEY, on the other hand, do NOT have a commitment to you! You need to create their commitment to you…start now!

    One of the biggest challenges companies have is keeping customers. It’s quite easy for a company to mess things up once in a while or to screw a customer around for no reason. It’s done every day. But some companies take it to an art form.
    So many companies send their sales staff out into the big wide world, either door to door or by telephone, to ‘get new customers’ and completely forget that they already have a ton of customers. It’s far easier to get business from people who are already a customer than to get new customers! Duh!
    If you look after your customer then they will be your customer for good. By looking after your customer I mean: Do what you say you are gonna do, WHEN you said you were gonna do it, HOW you were gonna do it, and more…OVERDELIVER!

    Rule 2
    You may think satisfying your customer is a big deal? Guess what? It’s not a big deal…it’s expected! It is a condition of the deal. It is expected by your customer, of course. They expect to be satisfied by your product. They expect to be satisfied by you. You should see that as a matter of course.

    Customer satisfaction is a priceless commodity. If your customer has peace of mind, they won’t give you a piece of their mind….Got it? No issues, no complaints, no challenges. Your customer isn’t expecting a trouble or issue free time but they are hoping for one and they also want to know one thing. If issues or problems arise, YOU are going to deal with them immediately!

    Rule 3
    Remember all that work you did to get that customer? Why did you stop? You need to KEEP them. The work STARTS when you get them!

    A few years ago when working in the telecommunications field I was training sales people to switch customers from BT (The UKs biggest landline provider) to a cable telephone system. One of the things I got the salespeople to make clear to the customer was that when they put the transfer in place they would be BOMBARDED by phone calls from BT asking if they could do something to keep them, or if they wanted different and more cost effective pricing plans. I made sure that the salespeople asked the customer ‘When was the last time they asked you if they could do anything for you?’ The answer was always the same. NEVER! Some of those people had been with that supplier for 25 years! Many companies only care these days if you are going to leave them. The art, or the secret, is to make sure that your customers are not even looking for a better deal. You need to make them CERTAIN that you are the best, and you need to do that all the time. Not just when a predator calls.

    Rule 4
    A Loyal customer is the best customer you can have. Better than satisfied. But then, they are only going to be loyal if they ARE satisfied.

    Satisfied customers spread the word. ‘Well, my provider is great’…or ‘We never have that problem with (your company name)’. And they tell their friends. If you don’t satisfy your customer, not only will they tell 50 times more people that they are not satisfied, they will not stay. If you FIRE them as a cusomer then you are in the wrong business. They will not be loyal. LOYAL is where you want them. Stuck to you like glue. The way to get them like that is to look after them, answer their questions, call them, do what you say you are going to do and quick.

    If you are still stuck on whether you want satisfied or loyal customers, think of this. Do you want your spouse to be Satisfied…or LOYAL? Yes, that’s the difference.

    There are more rules to this…and they really do work but, bottom line is simple….if you want a long term career, if you have kids at private schools, if you have a mortgage, if you want three holidays a year, nice cars, a great standard of living then you need to wise up. If you lose customers ALL OF THAT CHANGES! You CANNOT survive if your business model is ‘always look for new customers’ or ‘FIRE the customer’ so, Service your existing customers. Over deliver. Involve them. Call them and ask what else they want. They bought from you once, they will buy again.

    There is a great saying in sales that I use and that is “The salesperson gives up selling LONG before the buyer stops buying”

    You cannot expect to mine for gold in the same place every day…one day it will dry up. Service your existing customers. Stop making it hard for them with your automated call systems, your hold music, exorbitant charges, ignoring their calls, emails, requests for help.

    Be the company they believed you were when they became your customer. It was you who told them anyway…don’t lie.

    Your customers are the BESt salespeople you can ever have. Satisfied customers BRING you business. If you have ever been fired from a company or seen it done, the person usually grabs a few items, like a mouse mat or a box of pens or a company car (I have seen that happen). If you fire your customer they will take things too. Your reputation, your name, and probably other customers.

    Be the benchmark other companies are measured against!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Dear Dave,
      You offer so many wonderful points on the commitment and work it takes to get and keep a customer. I love the last statement the most “Be the benchmark!”

      And in those rare occasions where it doesn’t work out, leave the aggression and power words by the wayside and leave the door open for future interactions when minds can meet and collaborate.

      Many thanks for your considered opinion.
      Kate

  9. cindy penn says:

    Customers are company’s greatest assets. How come company can fire a customer. It is not the customers loss but it is he company loss if they fire customer.

  10. Hi Kate
    Thank you very much for this post.
    I love ,live and breathe Customer Service and Customer Service Culture.For me and for a business,wishing to be successful ,Customer Service is a number one priority. Customer Service is our bread and butter and I normally suggest to put the Customer Service and Customer Service Culture development into a Business Plan.
    Superior Customer Service and Culture is a missing Fusion link between Leadership and Management.
    Maybe this may sounds bit too harsh, but Business that uses the Phrase “Fire the customer!” may as well shut the doors of their business and never consider going back to business again.
    If you are dealing with hard and abusive Customers, there is many ways to deal with the problem ,resolving an issue and finding a common ground but to use “Fire the customer! is just unacceptable for anyone in CS business.
    Thank you for the post Kate

    Sincerely

    Dave

  11. [...] comments on my last post — Don’t Fire the Customer, Fire Yourselves! — showed that many use the phrase “fire the customer” as a display of power. [...]

  12. Peter says:

    Hello Kate,

    Thank you for your post and I appreciate this particular view when approaching customer service.

    I recently posted an article on a similar topic but through the lens of acquiring a “bad customer”. My contention is that businesses, especially small businesses in the service industry, should avoid entangling themselves in relationships that create unnecessary strain on the limited resources of a business and focus on acquiring and retaining those customer that allow the business to provide the best value to its customers.

    http://www.peterlang.us/2013/01/tricky-issue-firing-customers/

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Peter,
      As this issue continues to surface, I am a bit surprised that many continue to confuse how we speak about customers with ending a relationship with a particular customer. It’s the phrase “firing the customer” that will sink future business in my opinion. There are times that we end a relationship with a customer for lack of fit — on both sides.

      Yet using the phrase “We fired that customer” sounds like a power trip that other existing customers and future customers will find repellant and unacceptable.

      There’s a big difference between “ending a relationship with a customer” and “firing the customer”.

      Words matter for they echo to others with a different ring that what the speaker hears or even intends.

      Best wishes,
      Kate

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